17th Mar 2018

EU launches probe into Barroso ethics

  • Jean-Claude Juncker (left) applauds Jose Manuel Barroso (right) in 2014. The current EU commission president said there will be no more VIP treatment of Barroso. (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission will scrap red-carpet rights for its former president Jose Manuel Barroso, amid pressure to bring the Portuguese politician-turned-lobbyist to book.

Barroso’s appointment as non-executive chairman and special adviser on Brexit to US investment bank Goldman Sachs, in July, caused outrage.

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France’s president Francois Hollande, but also the commission’s own rank-and-file officers condemned as morally unacceptable that the former EU boss would work for a business that played a controversial role in the eurozone crisis.

In 2001, Goldman Sachs helped Greece to cover up the extent of its debt level, meaning that Athens could take on additional loans up to unsustainable levels.

Barroso’s successor at the commission’s helm, Jean-Claude Juncker, made known that Barroso’s new job will mean he no longer profits from VIP rights during his visits to Brussels.

”As of taking up his employment, Mr Barroso will be received in the commission not as a former president but as an interest representative”, Juncker wrote to the EU ombudsman Emily O’Reilly in a letter dated Friday (9 September).

He added that the Barroso case will be subject to consideration by a special ethics committee, which provides advice on the compatibility with the EU treaties of former commissioners’ post-office activities.

”I am pleased to inform you that, although in my contacts with Mr Barroso, he confirmed his standing commitment to behave with integrity and discretion also within his new position at Goldman Sachs, I have asked that, in this specific case, because it involves a former president of the commission, the secretary-general sends him a letter asking him to provide clarifications on his new responsibilities and the terms of reference of his contacts, on which I will seek the advice of the ad hoc ethical committee,” Juncker wrote.

The head of the EU executive has previously suggested that Goldman Sachs was not a good choice of employer.

But the commission has also defended Barroso, saying he followed EU rules, which state that ex-commissioners must ask the commission for approval before taking up a job up to 18 months after leaving EU office. Barroso took up the job 20 months later.

O’Reilly last week announced she had launched a probe into the case.

The EU watchdog said that article 245 of the EU Treaties requires commissioners to behave with integrity both during and after their term of office, and that some cases don’t cease to be problematic just because the 18 months deadline passes.

She asked Juncker for clarifications, by ways of establishing that the commission had taken all the necessary steps to uphold article 245.

She also asked whether the special ethics committee had been involved, and how the EU executive aimed to ensure that Barroso didn't exercise undue influence on the commission's special Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier - a former member of the Barroso commission.

O’Reilly also argued that there may be reason to revise the current code of conduct for commissioners.

A petition of EU officials has asked the commission to scrap Barroso's pension rights.


Barrosogate: What next?

Barrosogate is putting to the test an already weak oversight system of former EU commissioners and highlighting the limits of the lobbying regulatory regime.

Commission rejects ombudsman criticism over Barroso case

The European Commission repeated that it followed the rules when its former head joined Goldman Sachs - and suggested it will not follow the EU Ombudsman's demand to refer the case back to the ethics committee.

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